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Discover the rich history of California's early Franciscan Missions.

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    California's 21 historic missions recall a rich and fascinating history. Founded and operated by the Order of Saint Francis of Assisi with the intent to convert the Native Americans to Christianity. They formed an important part of Spain's strategy to claim and colonize North America.

    Father Junipero Serra was the first mission President and with the permission of King Charles III of Spain he and other Franciscan priests established a chain of 21 missions stretching between San Diego to San Francisco. These were built between 1769 and 1823 along El Camino Real, "the Royal Road" which linked the early Spanish settlements.

    The mission system operated for almost seven decades before it collapsed. In 1833, after Mexico won independence from Spain, the Mexican legislature passed an order to secularize the missions. By then foreign diseases had decimated the Native Americans.

    #1 : Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala
    California's First Church

    First of the 21 missions and known as the Mother of the Missions, Mission San Diego de Alcala was founded on July 16, 1769 by Blessed Junipero Serra. It was designated as a Minor Basilica in 1976 by Pope Paul VI. The Mission today is an active Catholic Parish in the Diocese of San Diego.
    Tour Old California Missions - Special Adventure Feature

    #4: Mission San Gabriel Arcangel
    Fourth of the original landmark California missions founded in 1771 by Father Junipero Serra to serve the local Shoshone indians that came to be known as Gabrielenos. Originally located in the Whittier Narrows until flash floods in 1776 forced it to present location.

    Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
    Founded in 1772 and named after a 13th-century saint, The Bishop of Toulouse. It is widely considered as the most beautiful of the California Mission system. It is one of only six missions that still rings its bells regularly today. The mission's lush garden has gnarled grape vines and the original 200 year old olive trees overhead.

    #7: Mission San Juan Capistrano - Jewel of the Missions
    The seventh mission founded November 1, 1776, by Fr. Junipero Serra. Previously established by Fr. Fermin Lasuen October 30, 1775, but abandoned because of Indian unrest at Mission San Diego. Named for St. John of Capistrano, Italy, a theologian of the 14th century. This site is famous for the annual return of the swallows on or about March 17th. Many festivities here include a Living History Day on the second Saturday of each month.

    Mission Santa Barbara #10: Mission Santa Barbara - Queen of the Missions
    Popular for its beautiful hilltop setting, graceful architecture and majestic views, this mission is the only one graced with twin bell towers.
    Founded Dec 4, 1786 on the Feast of Sta. Barbara, but destroyed by the Earthquake of 1812. The present-day church was built by the Chumash Indians 1815-1833. Many examples of early Mexican art including an 1808 Moorish fountain.

    #11: La Purisma Mission
    Founded in 1787 but destroyed by the great 1812 earthquake and rebuilt the following year. Only mission not built in a quadrangle. Today this landmark is part of 1,928 acre state park where ten of the original buildings have been fully restored along with its historic aquaduct. Visit the five-acre mission-style garden, livestock, picnic area and hiking trails.

    Mission San Miguel Arcangel
    This 1797 mission still serves as a parish church today. Inside are many original decorations, frescoes and paintings and the vaulted corridor is noted for its arches. Probably the least spoiled of the Franciscan Missions. Museum.

    Mission San Luis Rey de Francia - Oceanside CA

    Known as the "King of Missions" - Mission San Luis Rey is the largest of the California missions and a national landmark. Franciscan friars at the mission conduct regular tours. This church still holds regular worship services and hosts special functions during the week.

    #19: Mission Santa Ines
    This old mission church provides a sharp contrast to the rest of Solvang. Founded in 1804 by Spanish missionaries, it owned 12,000 head of cattle in 1820 at the peak of its prosperity. It was damaged both in an 1812 earthquake and 1824 Chumash Indian revolt. Much restoration work in the 20th century restored the original beauty of the mission.

    Mission San Antonio de Pala - Pala CA
    Located 6 miles east of I-15 on SR-76. Museum, gift shop and wilderness gardens. San Antonio de Pala was a sub-mission of Mission San Luis Rey de Francia. The bell tower is striking in that it is detached from the building; unusual in the mission system. Chapel built in 1816 in heart of small trading post for the Pala Indian Reservation.

  • San Bernardino Asistencia - Reproduction of outpost built 1830 in Redlands by the San Gabriel Mission. Original sold in 1852 to a colony of Mormons and used as a tithing house. Later razed.

  • Mission San Buenaventura Last mission founded by Father Serra in 1782 and later destroyed by earthquake and fire - located in Ventura.

  • Mission San Gabriel Arcangel - Built 1771.

  • Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana - Built 1797.

  • Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa - Built 1772.

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    Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
    Old Town San Diego State Historic Park recreates life in the Mexican and early American periods of 1821 to 1872. Five original adobes are part of the complex, which includes shops, restaurants and a museum. La Casa de Estudillo is a mansion built around a garden courtyard. This park covers a six block area (bounded by Wallace, Juan, Twiggs and Congress sts) re-creating the founding of the first European settlement in California. Presidio Park (located closeby) is the site of California's first mission and military fortress (1769).

    Serra Museum - Presidio Park
    Includes 120 acres atop Presidio Hill, overlooking Old Town. Active archeological dig continues to make many noteworthy discoveries. Marks the site of the first California Mission built by Father Serra in 1769. Museum exhibits cover Indian, Spanish and Mexican historical periods.

Early California Spanish Mission

Historic Fransiscan Mission

California Historic Church

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